By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
6. The Polar Express (IMAX 3-D)
The unconvincing stiffness that plagues human characters in digital animation is the only thing keeping this instant classic of slumberland Americana out of my #1 slot. Among viewing experiences, none all year topped that of peering through an indoor snowfall while a thousand illuminated flecks dusted the theater--and that was just in the first few minutes. Robert Zemeckis may be the first director to grasp the spatial and compositional possibilities of 3-D and CGI: The camera is liberated from mass, from gravity, even from reality. All this plus a midnight train where kids in their pajamas get to drink hot chocolate.
7. Hero / House of Flying Daggers
After seeing these Zhang Yimou films back to back, I now think of the director's martial-arts epics much like the two volumes of Kill Bill: The first absorbs and transforms its influences, while the second "merely" serves up undigested genre play as it leaps from one astounding set piece to the next. I'd give Hero the edge for three reasons: Maggie Cheung, Christopher Doyle's ravishing camerawork, and Zhang's color-coded evocation of the distortions of fiction, memory, and longing. But House's Shaw Brothers-esque "echo game" and insane bamboo-forest showdown reveal that Zhang is no dilettante of the genre. Note to unsung fight choreographer Tony Ching Siu-Tung: Take a bow for cashing all of Zhang's checks.
8. Crimson Gold
The faddish interest in Iranian cinema may come and go (mostly go, if the swelling backlash continues through 2005), but not this mordant tragicomedy about a drugged bear of a man lurching through a world of comforts he'll never possess. As directed by Jafar Panahi and scripted with uncharacteristic noirish flair by Abbas Kiarostami, the movie is a time capsule of class resentment, embodied by the hulking nonactor Hossain Emadeddin in a seething performance.
Unjustly greeted with critical silence and half-assed distribution, David Gordon Green's Super '70s riff on The Night of the Hunter turns the stuff of backwoods drive-in melodramas into a mixture of folktale and homegrown Greek mythology. And I still can't believe that entirely credible Delta river rat is really the kid from Billy Elliot.
10. The Aviator
Scorsese to Hollywood: "Okay, I'll make your prestige-biopic kinda picture, your Beautiful Mind or whatever the hell it is. And because I'll make it with such eye-popping pizzazz, you'll never notice what it's really about: how you started out as a brazen daredevil full of possibility and ended up a timid, decrepit old vegetable--'the way of the future,' indeed. Just send my Oscar to New York, thanks."
Honorable Mention (alphabetically):Bright Leaves; The Brown Bunny; The Corporation; The Return; Shaun of the Dead; Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring; Team America: World Police; the "Hell" and "Heaven" sections of Notre musique; the amazing train chase and chicken run from Torque; and every extra second spent in Lee Marvin's company from The Big Red One: The Reconstruction.